If a painted surface is clean and in good shape, you typically can paint over it without removing the old paint. However, if the old paint is cracked, peeling, blistered, or otherwise loose, you're asking for trouble if you directly paint over it. While fresh paint will initially hide the imperfections, it won't be long before the underlying layer bubbles up and compromises your work. So to provide a solid base for your next paint color, you'll first have to spend some time on paint removal.
Scraping paint is usually done with a wire brush, a paint scraper, or a combination of both tools. This can be a tedious and time-consuming process. If you want, you can limit your efforts to the areas with imperfections and then sand to even out the surface. But for the smoothest finish, it's best to remove all the old paint before proceeding with your new color.
Paint sold before 1978 often contains lead. And if paint containing lead is loosened during the removal process, the chips and dust can pose a health risk if they're inhaled or ingested. If you suspect you might be working with old paint, test an area for the presence of lead. (Most hardware stores sell test kits.) If lead is present, follow EPA recommendations for its removal.
Here are three manual tools that are helpful for paint removal.
Easy to use
No set-up time
Ineffective on firmly attached paint
Metal tines will rust
Causes debris to fly
You can use a brush with tines made of metal wire to remove raised, peeling, or blistered paint. Wire brushes are inexpensive and quick to put into action, as opposed to a power sander that requires set-up time. In addition, wire brushes are valuable for cleaning paint scrapers and other tools, such as putty knives and wallboard knives.
Though easy to use and cheap, wire brushes are ineffective for anything but the most raised peeling and blistered paint. If the paint is even moderately attached to the surface, the brush will not remove it.
Vigorous brushing, too, will cause the paint flakes to fly outside of the work area. Laying down a dropcloth will contain the paint flakes.
Sweep the Wire Brush Over the Painted Surface
On areas of prominently peeling paint, lightly sweep your wire brush parallel to the edge of the peeling paint to lift it. Where the paint more closely hugs the surface, sweep in the direction of the paint strokes if they are visible. Otherwise follow the direction the paint seems to want to peel off the surface.
Clean the Wire Brush
When finished, clean the wire brush under running water. Shake out the brush and thoroughly dry it with a heat gun or on a towel.
Follow With a Paint Scraper if Necessary
A wire brush will usually remove the loosest paint well, but it's rarely enough to completely strip a surface. So you might have to do some follow-up work with a manual paint scraper.
Manual Paint Scraper
Effective on large loose areas of paint
Simple to use
Can gouge surface
Requires much effort
The manual paint scraper is an old, reliable way of removing paint. It does take some effort to remove paint with a manual scraper, but going slowly with plenty of rest breaks will make for a successful job. There are multiple types of paint scrapers to help you get under those stubborn layers of old paint, including:
- 3-inch flat heavy-duty scraper: With its handle, this scraper gives you a firm grip as you push into the paint. This tool is flat and is shaped like a large putty knife.
- 2.5-inch two-edge paint scraper: Shaped like a large facial razor, this tool has a thin handle and a wide head. The head sometimes has replaceable scraper blades; shift to a new blade whenever the old one gets dull. This tool is designed to be pulled toward you rather than pushed forward.
- Multi-use painter's tool: Known as a 5-in-1 tool, 8-in-1 tool, 14-in-1 tool, and several other permutations, this tool has great utility not just for scraping paint but for many forms of home improvement work. You can use this tool for spreading wood filler, chiseling, opening paint cans, cleaning rollers, and more.
- Putty knife: While a putty knife is designed for using wood filler or joint compound, its blunt end makes it ideal for scraping paint while reducing the chance of gouging the surface.
Run a Paint Scraper Over a Whetstone
It helps to have both a sharp scraper and a blunt scraper when removing paint. Run your sharp tool over a whetstone to hone the blade. It doesn't need to be razor-sharp.
Scrape Loose Paint With the Blunt Tool
Begin with the blunt tool. Put the scraper end under any loose paint flakes and gently push. Continue pushing until the paint no longer comes up easily.
Switch to the Sharp Tool if Necessary
If the paint still has a raised edge, switch to the sharp tool. Place the scraper end under the raised edge, and gently press forward until the scraper doesn't easily lift the paint. Take care not to gouge the surface when working with a sharp scraper.
Wash the Scrapers
Wash your scrapers under running water, and dry them to prevent rust.
Effective on firmly attached paint
Good on all types of paint
Several scraper attachments available
Requires electrical outlet
An electric heat gun rated for 1,000 watts or more is a valuable tool for removing paint. While heat guns are slow, they are effective. Some heat guns come with scraper attachments, which makes the paint-removal process even easier. But you also can work with a heat gun and a separate manual scraper.
Gather Your Scraper and Heat Gun
If you have a scraper head attachment for your heat gun, fit it onto the end of the gun while the tool is unplugged. If not, simply hold your heat gun in one hand and a blunt scraper in the other hand.
Plug in the Heat Gun and Heat the Paint
Begin with the heat gun turned to its low setting. If you have the scraper attachment, hold the tip of the tool close to the painted surface. If not, hold the heat gun a few inches away from the surface. Slightly waving the gun over the surface, let the paint heat up for roughly 20 seconds.
Press the Scraper Forward
Aim the heat gun away from your work, or briefly turn off the power, to avoid burning your fingers as you gently press the scraper attachment or manual scraper forward several inches to peel away the heated paint. If the paint has been adequately warmed, it will be slightly soft and easily peel away from the surface. Overheating the paint can make it gummy and harder to remove. Practice will help you determine the right amount of heating for easy removal.
Protect Your Family From Sources of Lead. United States Environmental Protection Agency.